19 August, 2010

On Killer Reviews

This article started out as a review of The Dervish House, by Iam McDonald, but some reviews just aren’t worth writing.

When you connect with a work one of the hardest things to do can be putting your thoughts down on paper. The process of filtering and dissecting your opinion of the work in preparation for a review can demystify an amazing reading experience by providing objective reasons for subjective impressions. You become a machine subject to logical and observable inputs and outputs.

What was wonder and amazement at a turn of phrase or sequence of events quickly becomes admiration for the author’s planning or penmanship. In essence, the review machine inexorably grinds down generalities and impressions into specific observations and causal links. The personal connection one might feel with a work is edited and categorized for presentation to the world, in essence killing all that is personal and private about it.

The transition from the personal sphere to the public sphere is at the heart of the reviewing process, and it can be deadly. It will kill that ever so rare and delicious haze of contented amazement readers have after finishing a truly good book. And, friends and readers, I want to keep my haze. So, just for today, leave me in my cave of cloudy emotion and broken causal chains, because The Dervish House has been my best read of 2010, and I want it to stay that way.

I direct you towards those bloggers braver than me and their fine reviews of The Dervish House. And this guy too.


redhead said...

great article! and I feel the same way. You don't want to lose, or sully the haze, you just want to bask in it. makes writing the review really damn hard!!

brainshades said...

I read DESOLATION ROAD when it was first released and liked it quite a bit. Subsequently I read everything McDonald wrote during the next decade and liked those books as well... but at some point, actually around the same time that his US publisher left him hanging, I did too. He's a very skilled, and very polished writer, but sometimes the stories just didn't seem worth telling or reading. I don't know for certain if it was the repetitive Third World theme that finally wore me out, but I didn't feel like I was getting anything out of them anymore.

When RIVER OF GODS came out, the buzz was so good that I felt compelled to go back to the well and I'm glad I did, it was a damn fine SF novel. I haven't read BRASYL yet, but have just finished THE DERVISH HOUSE and can't recommend it enough. I think RIVER is the better of the two, but it may be the best SF novel of the past decade so big deal...

What's cool about his recent novels is that he's writing about the real Third World, not just some pastiche of it. He has taken literary ownership of these countries, cities, and civilizations, and has created incredibly plausible futures for them. He's actually better at this game than William Gibson, who is also attempting to map out what the near-term technical future looks like. The addition of serious cultural history and it's influence on the adaption and pursuit of new technologies makes for some seriously interesting reading.

Bryce L. said...

This almost-review actually makes me want to read the book more than the other reviews.

Lately I've been debating this same thing, am I really enjoying the books I'm reading or just reading to review. I think it's a bit of both to some extent, but Way of Kings definitely moved more in the enjoyment category.

bloggeratf said...

@ redhead Exactly!

@ Brainshades

I am new to McDonald, so I can't really judge based on his previous work, although I think I did read Desolation Road at some point. Surprisingly, I was at B&N on Saturday and couldn't find any of his work there.

I enjoyed the third world theme very much. He really got to the heart of what an old street in Turkey. My only real criticism is that some of the links between the different story lines are a bit unbelievable, but then again I guess that sf is the world of coincidence.

As for owning the places he is writing about, if I am not mistaken, he actually takes a year to go live there and writes the book in the process. Not sure if he did that for Turkey though.

@ Seak

Like I said above, I went to B&N this weekend and just couldn't find anything I wanted to read... I was tempted to get a couple recent books, such as the new Weeks, but didn't want to spring for the hardcover. Besides that, I was going to buy three books for the purpose of reviewing but just wasn't in love with them, especially after coming off such a long string of great reads. WoK -- Windup Girl -- Dervish House -- Gemmel.

Neth said...

thanks for the link - I understand your issue and have faced it many times myself. Generally, I battle through and write a review, but I let my reaction stew for a week or two in those cases.

On McDonald, I'm something of a minority opinion. I've only read a few of his books - I think they are good, but they have just enough issues that keep them from being great.